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Bobby Scott Leads as Potential Senate Pick, Although Campaign Finance Could Be Stumbling Block

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AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite
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Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott is ramping up his presence on Capitol Hill, appearing at a Hillary Clinton campaign event this week and sending new fundraising emails. Michael Pope has this look at his campaign finance record. 

During a recent press conference at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, Congressman Bobby Scott of Newport News waited patiently for his turn to speak in support of Hillary Clinton.

As New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell wrapped up his speech, he introduced Scott.

“I gladly support Hillary Clinton, and I’m honored to be here today," Pascrell said. "And I now introduce my brother from Virginia. Please come up here our great assemblyman and soon to be senator."

Soon-to-be senator. That’s the expectation, especially after a poll released Thursday by the University of Mary Washington.

The poll shows Scott leading all other potential candidates for filling the seat that might be vacated by Senator Tim Kaine. Virginia's Governor Terry McAuliffe gets to make that decision.

Related: A Glimpse into Tim Kaine's Political Past

But as Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington says, whoever gets the nod will have to run two back to back statewide campaigns -- one to fill Tim Kaine’s unexpired Senate term and then another to fill a full Senate term.

“Running for office is an exhausting business, and to imagine a statewide campaign followed by another statewide campaign well I think even the most aggressive politicians would give pause before going down that road," says Farnsworth.

Farnsworth says people who have been confronted with the prospect of running two back to back statewide races have generally begged off.

“When Mark Warner, for example, ran for the Senate in 1996 and did very well against Senator John Warner, there was some talk about having him run for governor the following year," Farnsworth says. "But Mark Warner waited and ran for governor five years later."

If Scott isn’t daunted by the prospect of two back-to-back races, he might be daunted by the cost. Unlike every other member of the Virginia delegation, he does not have a leadership PAC. Those are the campaign funds that are raised separate from a candidate’s personal account.

"So if you’re the chair of an important committee, lots of people want to make donations to your leadership PAC," says Quentin Kidd, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University.

Kidd says, that’s why Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Roanoke has a half a million dollar leadership PAC.

“Because ultimately donations means not that you are going to get a quid pro quo vote or anything like that, but if you’ve given money to a member of Congress you are more likely to get your phone calls returned, you are more likely to get them to listen to your position on an issue," says Kidd.

Kidd predicts that Scott will now take a new interest in fundraising.

"He’s probably going to try to raise a lot more money than he normally would try to raise this year," Kidd says. "But it’s just not been his focus in the past. It’s not been the way he’s thought about his job as a member in the past."

Frank Shafroth at George Mason University says that’s probably an admirable feature.

“And not all members have felt this compelling need to devote a lot of time instead of representing their own districts and constituents to raising money and being indebted to other interest groups," says Shafroth.  

Then again, campaigns don’t finance themselves. 

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